In the spring of 1958, my father was transferred by his company to a nearby town in upstate New York. I was in 7th grade. There were only two months left in the school year, so my mother sweet-talked the pastor, Monsignor Canfield, into enrolling my brother and me on a trial basis into the local, overcrowded Catholic school. The average class size at St. Charles Borromeo was 40-plus kids, but we were used to 60 from our previous Catholic school.
During recess on my first day in the new school, I was standing in a raw, cold windy playground, talking to some of the girls in my class. Suddenly a gray, gritty, sopping wet rag hit me in my brand new, maroon plaid, box-pleated uniform skirt. I turned and saw Ronnie Mannalli, the scrawny little tough guy the girls had just been warning me about. He was pointing and laughing at me.
This was before Facebook. Yes, dears, there was such a time. So perhaps Ronnie was unaware that I had three brothers. In seconds, I had him pinned down in a puddle, my hand on his throat. I was “punching the living crap out of him” as we kids used to call it at home, out of earshot of my mother. Since Ronnie had not started crying, I kept punching.
Suddenly a dark shadowy penumbra loomed over us. I stopped, fist frozen mid-air by, “What is going on here?” It was Monsignor Canfield.
He brought me to the school principal’s office. As I stood in front of Mother Ursula’s green metal desk, under the cross, with the dried palm frond curling behind it, I tried to look contrite. The monsignor told her he had found me pummeling Ronnie Mannalli. He was disappointed in me, for despite his generous accommodation, I had been fighting. He could not possibly keep me in the school, and told Mother Ursula to call my mother. The deal was off.
I was about to tell my side of the story when Mother Ursula interrupted and said, “This lovely young girl would never do such a thing.” I tried not to whipsaw my head around. “And if she did, Ronnie Mannalli probably deserved it.” On a scale of one to Climb-every-mountain” it was stunning. I finished out the year, and graduated from St. Charles.
Along with the unnatural fondness for knee socks that the beginning of the school year always brings, I always remember this story. May all who are bullied fight back. May all bullied kids have an adult ally.
Kate Clinton is a humorist who has been entertaining audiences for 30 years.